Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Turkey Part 2: The Port of Bodrum

Our first stop in Turkey was in the city of Kusadasi. Although we enjoyed some nice experiences, overall we were not super impressed by Turkey. The street vendors were pushy and aggressive, the city was a little dirty (at least compared to the other ports we had visited), it was hard to find decent food, and overall we felt as if everyone was trying to take advantage of us.

Bodrom, our second stop in Turkey on the other hand ended up being the exact opposite experience. Bodrum was a European "holiday" type of port where Kusadasi was more of an urban port. Instead of wandering the streets like we did in Kusadasi, we had previously signed up for a trip through the countryside of Bodrum.

We took a bus with a group of 30 others about an hour into the countryside of Bodrum. Highlights of the tour included a visit to a mosque and a meeting with a local family who showed us their handmade Turkish rugs. Although we went into the trip with no intentions of buying a Turkish rug, of course Emi was swayed and I had to lug one back home.

Prepping our Turkish snacks.

To butter us up they served us Turkish wine and a crepe like buttery cheese sandwich. They were served hot. The outside was buttery and flaky and the insides were filled with gooey, fresh goat cheese and other herbs, I think I noticed fresh dill, spinach, and parsley.

Salty, buttery, crispy, and cheesy. A great little snack. We didn't turn down seconds.

After we had a few glasses of wine, some fresh, juicy fruit, and the pastries we were ready to shop. We spoke to a few other couples after we left the house and all of us had the same intentions, but those went out the door when the beautiful handmade rugs were laid in front of us.

After buying rugs, we were dropped off at a local market, where they had olives, olive oil, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

Turkish cheese

I was hungry again so ordered one of the crepe like sandwiches. To make the sandwich they took a layer of the dough off the mound and heated it up on a hot griddle and then filled it with all the goodness.

As you can see they also had some red chili flakes in their to add a little spice. After filling up we went to an authentic Turkish bathe and that was quite the experience. Besides picking up one of these wraps and a Turkish rug, you need to check out a Turkish bathe. A unique, fun, relaxing, out of this world experience that you can't pass up if you ever make it out to Turkey.

What a fun relaxing day we had. We even splurged at the bathes and added on an extra massage. We were re-energized with new memories and a relaxing spa experience and were ready to take on the rest of the cruise.

- Kyle

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kusadasi, Turkey Part 2: Hookah and a Turkish Lunch

After spending the morning with the locals in town, we decided we needed to hit up the beach. Getting there was a pain. The taxi driver ripped us off, the beach was super crowded and dirty, but after wading out into the clear, warm, blue Mediterranean, perspective came back real quick. A memory I'll have for the rest of my life. The experience reminded Emi and I how fortunate we truly are.

One of my top priorities going into this trip was to smoke hookah in Turkey. We found a nice beach side lounge and ordered an Effes beer and a hookah.

Smooth, apple hookah. Also for those of you unfamiliar, it's perfectly legal. When you smoke hookah you smoke flavored, molasses flavored tobacco through a water pipe. Instead of a harsh smoke, you inhale a sweet (apple, mango, mint, lemon, caramel, etc) flavored tobacco.

Honestly there is nothing more relaxing than having a view of the Mediterranean with a beer and hookah pipe in hand with no where to go.

All of that reflection and relaxing I was hungry. We headed back into town to pick up some Turkish food. I was a little disappointed by the availability of good Turkish food ( there was an abundance of burgers, pizza, and pasta), but we finally found a place that looked decent.

I started with their minestrone soup. I expected it to be thicker, but it was more of a broth with a slight lemon aftertaste. The soup was a nice, light, palette cleaner. Subtle and delicious, not like the overpowering Mediterranean food I had come to expect.

Boom, straight into the gyro combo dish. The rice was cooked in some form of meat grease/broth which added a lot of flavor. The meat of course had all the spices we enjoyed throughout the trip which included lots of salt and garlic. They drizzled a tomato sauce on top of the meat and served the meat and rice with fresh tomatoes and a grilled pepper. Also what is a gyro dish without fries!

Emi went a slightly different route with the meat skewers. All in all, a solid filling meal.

mmm, my favorite, Turkish desserts. Crispy, light, honey soaked filo over stuffed pistachios and other nuts.

We weren't done yet. Emi wasn't ready to get on the boat yet, so we stopped in the port for some gelato. Big mistake! Never eat in the port right off the cruise ships unless you want to pay double if not triple what you would across the street.

Luckily the girl who served us was friendly and made for great company. However the gelato, Turkish coffee, Turkish delights, and water ran us each $20. Emi wouldn't let me drink the water, at that price though what a waste!

Emi and my expensive ass gelato :). Nothing compares to the gelato in Italy, however on a hot, humid day like the one we experienced in Kusadasi, the gelato was a nice treat before we headed back on board the cruise ship.

- Kyle

Friday, September 9, 2011

Kusadasi, Turkey: A Whole New World

As we pulled into our first port in Turkey, scenes from Aladdin started streaming through my mind. I was on a Disney fantasy kick during this trip.

Kyle and I walked around the market place, hoping to find a couple bargains and a good place for breakfast. I stopped into a shop with floor to ceiling shelves full of Turkish goodies.

When you only have a couple hours in a port, you get a little taste of the flavor of the country/city. I mean this literally. One of the flavors in Turkey we had to get a sample of was the Turkish coffee. We found out that the coffee itself is not Turkish--it's probably the same beans that we drink in the U.S. It is the style of coffee that makes it unique.

The coffee is a dense concoction with thick sludgy coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup. You don't drink this part of the coffee, but it definitely helps to give the drink an extra punch of flavor and caffeine. A nice pick-me-up when you dock at 7AM in a port!

I had the Turkish apple tea which is a tea with a subtle apple flavor. You can add a sugar cube to add some sweetness.

As Kyle and I strolled around the city, we quickly discovered that this was a tourist hot spot by the fact that every breakfast spot advertised an "Irish breakfast." This was a bad sign. All we wanted was a true Turkish breakfast. We were starting to wear down and decided to stop anywhere that at least owned a meat spit, which would indicate they eventually sold some type of Turkish food at some point in the day.

I was slowing down to look at a restaurant when an older gentleman started chatting with me, suggesting I stop for breakfast. He was perched on a little stool outside a jewelry shop and spoke perfect English. We took a seat and asked him what Turkish people usually eat for breakfast. He told us that they don't typically eat breakfast like Americans. Breakfast is usually a light meal of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, some feta and a little bread. The main course is the Turkish coffee. He waved the waiter down and spoke in Turkish, telling him that we wanted a Turkish breakfast. For 10 euros, we drank coffee and tea, munched on sweet, fresh tomatoes, crispy cucumbers, some delicious feta, and crusty bread. Best of all, we learned a lot about Turkey from our new friend, who told us to call him "Kevin" because it was easier to pronounce that his true name.

Kyle and I made up a story for Kevin, that included a tale about Kevin being a fugitive hiding out in Turkey. Kevin told us he speaks 7 languages and appeared to know everybody. He sells jewelry for his friend and tried to convince me to buy a $900 ring (I had to go into the shop after all the time and effort he spent talking to us during breakfast! I know Jasmine would do the same). When we asked him to take a photo with us and the restaurant owner, we took several photos and Kevin did not look at the camera in any of the shots! He was my Turkish mystery man.
Sometimes food can create stories, but in this case, the food tasted better because of the stories, thanks to Kevin and this Aladdin-like land.
Happy Eating,

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Athens Part 2: Exploring the Plaka and in search of a Greek gyro

After finishing up our lunchtime feast, we decided to walk it off by exploring the Plaka. One nice thing about traveling with our parents is we didn't have to lug gifts back to them. Instead we did some shopping for ourseleves. When one thinks of Greek cuisine, gyros, olive oil, and ouzo are usually the first things to come to mind. Lucky for us olive oil shops were on every corner.

We never knew how much of a difference a quality olive oil's taste could have in comparison to a cheap American olive oil. We probably never knew because we were so used to the flavorless American variety. Also what's nice is that in Greece the olive oil is relatively cheap. The same bottle that would run $20+ in the US was half the cost in Athens.

Of course they had tons and tons of Ouzo. We brought back a few bottles as gifts for friends. A light, affordable, compact gift.

Steve ran into a pistachio vendor and needed to buy a bag for all of us to enjoy. They were amazing! Oven roasted and salted. Much more savory than their weaker California cousin. They had a smoked flavor to them.

Ice Grill was recommended to us by our tour guide. We asked for an authentic sit down eating experience along with a place we could find a good simple gyro. 30 minutes earlier we had finished our sit down feast, but I was NOT leaving Athens without a gyro!

Emi's mom thought this picture was funny because I was so excited to get started on lunch #2.

mmm, the first bite

Even though I was somewhat full, I found a second stomach in order to enjoy this tasty gyro. I noticed everything in Greece is either stuffed with fries or comes with them. They love their fries. I could have gone without them, but in general great gyro and another checkmark for my food eating To Do list.

In the hot, humid, July, middle of the day heat these sweetened ice coffees were a welcome reprieve from our dry, hot mouths.

Kanafeh/Katayifeh or whatever you want to call it as some of you may remember from my memorable meal at Ala Turka in Singapore is one of my favorite desserts of all time. This one proved to be super sweet and a little soggy. Not as amazing as the one in Singapore, but something I had to eat in the Mediterranean.

This baklava was in a cylindrical shape. Different. I usually enjoy the layers of philo. In this shape it was a giant, sweet mass. After enjoying a salty, savory gyro the sweets were a nice change of pace.

Some of you may not know, but Emi's dad has spent a good amount of time in Greece, so he wanted to show us how to deal with the locals.

Little did we know, but we were still in for some amazing, life changing meals during our travels through Greece.

- Kyle

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Authentic Greek Food - A memorable meal in Athens

After spending the morning taking a bus and walking a tour through Athens which included a visit to the Parthenon we were ready to eat. I had been waiting all morning to get to the Plaka so we could find some authentic Greek food.
The idea behind our cruise started with my passion for Greek food. Probably three years ago or so, I decided I wanted to go to Greece. After doing some research I knew I wanted to visit all of the amazing islands Greece had to offer. Diving deeper into my research, I determined Turkey and Croatia would be pretty amazing to visit too and from there we were hooked on a Mediterranean cruise. It was surreal to finally be a world away in Athens and ready to enjoy real Greek food!
Nothing goes better on a hot, humid day with Greek food than a nice ice cold Greek beer; Mythos in this instance.
And of course Ouzo! Not necessarily a favorite of mine, but something Emi's Dad has always enjoyed and introduced over the years to Emi and myself. Think harsh, Jagermeister. Jager is probably sweeter, where ouzo has a tongue numbing aftertaste and that strong licorice flavor. Not a favorite of mine, but when in Greece you have to drink ouzo.

The best way to enjoy ouzo is with a few ice cubes and a little water to dilute it. The ice and water turns the ouzo a milky color.
We started the meal with a loaf of bread, olives, and a cod roe butter. The butter was a little fishy as expected, but the olives and house olive oil made up for this first taste of the meal. A common theme throughout our trip was how amazing the olive oil was everywhere we went.
Smoked babaganoush or eggplant dip, which we enjoyed with our bread. This smoked, olive oil infused, tender eggplant concoction was amazing.
The best dolmathes I've ever enjoyed. These warm grape leaves were stuffed with rice and ground meat and covered in a thick lemon sauce. Very tender and also a little tangy and salty.
A true "Greek" salad, with sweet juicy tomatoes, cucumber, olives, and red onion. Similar to Kotor the fresh Greek feta was soft and not too salty, but still very flavorful.
Our chicken souvlaki with fries. Everything came with fries in Athens. The chicken was a little crispy and even though I'm not a huge fan of chicken breast was still very good. I was disappointed they didn't have gyros on the menu, but this was a classy joint, so I had to wait till later to check that off my list.
Our waiter prepping our giant grilled squid.
He squeezed fresh lemon juice over the squid, which made a great sauce when combined and mixed with the natural juices from the grilled squird. Tender and delicious. Not as good as the grilled octopus we enjoyed in Kotor, but still very tasty.
Happy couple after a great meal. My favorite memory of Athens was this meal. I couldn't get over the fact that we were finally in Greece eating authentic Greek food! Amazing and made me realize how fortunate we are to be able to fulfill our crazy wishes and dreams.
- Kyle